It’s a battle of the Bulldogs, as 17th-ranked Mississippi State travels to Athens, GA, to face 11th-ranked Georgia. Game time from Sanford Stadium will begin this Saturday at 7:30 EST, with the game airing on ESPN.
Miss State’s convincing win last weekend over LSU has many declaring them the second-best team in the SEC. That’s high praise for a team who went 6-7 last season, with losses to the likes of BYU and South Alabama. But they’ve improved considerably on defense and have their QB of the future. That changes things.
Nick Fitzgerald has been a confident leader for Starkville’s Bulldogs, even if he doesn’t have incredible passing stats to prove it. He’s had offered plenty of support in the run game, with 240 yards and a 7.7 average. Aeris Williams has helped him out too, with 365 yards from scrimmage.
But all that yardage doesn’t mean a whole lot when you’re playing Georgia’s defense. They’re easily one of the best in the country, and have returned essentially their entire starting lineup from last year’s unit. They’ve only given up 43 points combined in three games, and have beasts like ILB Roquan Smith and OLB Lorenzo Carter (three sacks).
Georgia will turn once again to freshman QB Jake Fromm to start, and will go in as 5-point favorites.
Let’s get this straight: Miss State does not yet deserve the right to be called the second-best team in the SEC. But neither does Georgia, and they’re ranked as the second-best.
Even with a freshman at QB, Fromm has worked his way through the learning process more quickly than expected. He also has guys like Nick Chubb to thank for that. The senior RB could be a handful for Miss State. But they played well enough against former Heisman contender Derrius Guice (76 yards) last weekend to think they might be able to at least keep him from breaking out.
Miss State has four guys on their defense with multiple sacks after only three games. Though finishing 120th in passing defense last year was a major concern, giving up only 315 yards through the air after three games is terrific. Sure, they didn’t play a Jalen Hurts, a Shea Patterson, or a Jarrett Stidham like they will later in the season. But playing against the freshman Fromm won’t be a bad matchup for them.
And if Georgia gets too one-dimensional, with runs to Chubb and Sony Michel, they could struggle. Miss State DC Todd Grantham has made a living off beating one-dimensional teams during his career. Expect to focus almost solely on the running game and make Fromm beat his Bulldogs.
On the other side of things, Georgia’s D will be the toughest Miss State has played. Head Coach Dan Mullen did make LSU look bad in Starkville, but Athens will be tougher. Still, it’s hard to ignore 37 points against a team that prides itself in having a top-10 defense year-in and year-out.
If the home team has their way, this will be a low-scoring contest. If so, this could be a three-point contest, if not closer. And if it isn’t a lower scoring game, with the winner getting into the thirties, then it’ll likely be a Miss State win.
Either way, they should cover.